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Firefighters battle blazes around Finland amid new heat warnings

Authorities warn of high risk of fires and heat exhaustion, while a fresh study says that climate change makes Nordic summer heatwaves more likely.

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Firefighters are working on Saturday to ensure the Kannus fire is completely extinguished. Image: Antti Eintola / Yle

While Finland has so far been spared the devastating wildfires that have struck neighbouring Sweden and other European countries this hot, dry summer, firefighters have had to deal with several small to medium-sized blazes in recent days – just as some Finnish teams headed to help fight conflagrations in Sweden.

Beginning early Friday evening, a fire burned three hectares in the Central Ostrobothnian municipality of Kannus. The burn area centred on the village of Rättyä, some 50 km inland from the west-coast town of Kokkola.

The fire began in an area where logging was going on, spreading into adjacent woodlands. Firefighters were able to prevent it from spreading further, battling the blaze in terrain that was difficult to access. They had help from a Finnish Defence Forces helicopter.

“In the initial phase, there were 15 rescue squad units and 40 firefighters working to extinguish the flames,” Jukka Kangasvieri of the South Ostrobothnia Rescue Squad tells Yle.

The fire was brought under control by 10pm. Damping-down operations were still underway late Saturday morning.

Smaller grassfires in Eastern Finland

On Friday afternoon, there were at least two smaller grassfires in Eastern Finland. One broke out around 3pm in Juva, some 40 km north of Mikkeli.

The South Savo Rescue Squad says the fire took nearly three hours to put out. No buildings were at risk. The cause of the fire remains unclear.

Also on Friday afternoon, there was a small fire near Likalahti in Savitaipale, south of Mikkeli, which was quickly extinguished.

Again, there was no obvious cause for the blaze. There had not been any lightning or forest machines working in the area at the time, fireman Timo Jaako of the South Karelia Rescue Squad told the newspaper Etelä-Saimaa.

Stern warnings on fires and heat

The rescue squad urged local residents to keep in mind that there is a forest fire warning in effect and that open fires are prohibited.

According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), there is a high risk of forest fires throughout southern and central Finland, as well in north-western Finland up as far as Simo.

The “danger of forest fires is pronounced due to soil dryness. In case of windy weather forest fires spread quickly,” the FMI notes.

The institute has also issued a heat wave warning for most of southern and western Finland, from Eastern Uusimaa up to Central Ostrobothnia, with very warm weather expected over the next day or so.

“People with chronic illness will experience significant and difficult symptoms,” says the FMI, adding that “heat stress will limit the work capability of healthy people.”

Climate change makes Nordic heatwave "more likely"

Meanwhile the British journal New Scientist on Friday cites a fresh survey which concludes that human-driven climate change has increased the odds of the current Nordic heatwave.

The paper published by World Weather Attribution, based at the University of Oxford, notes that this summer has been “remarkable in northern Europe” with “a very persistent high-pressure anomaly over Scandinavia caus[ing] high temperature anomalies and drought” since May.

Europe-wide, “the highest anomalies were in Northern Scandinavia and in western Ireland, with heatwaves already more than five degrees warmer than the average hottest three days of the year in 1981-2010,” it says.

“The further North in Europe we look, the more extreme the event is today. In the station in northern Finland, temperatures are experienced outside anything that has been measured before in over a hundred years worth of data,” says the report, noting that such phenomena “have simply become more likely due to anthropogenic climate change”.

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